Taking a guided tour can be a fun and informative way to see and learn about Philadelphia. There are a variety of options — especially in Independence National Historical Park — ranging from your basic history tour to a bar tour led by guides in colonial garb. Old City is best explored on foot, with lots of sights within close proximity of one another. To cover farther-reaching areas of the city, or when hot summer temperatures make it unpleasant to do much walking at all, there are also bus, trolley, carriage, and boat tours to choose from.
Constitutional Walking Tours (Independence Visitor Center, 6th and Market Sts., 215/525-1776, www.theconstitutional.com, $17.50 adult, $12.50 children 3–12, $55 for family of 2 adults and 2 children) let you see Independence National Historical Park through a variety of methods. Free self-guided map tours cover more than 30 historic sites; various audio tours that work with mp3 players and cell phones are available for purchase; or you can take a 75-minute guided tour that points out 15 popular sites. Note that the guided tour does not include entry to the sites.
Once Upon a Nation is responsible for the knowledgeable colonial-dressed storytellers stationed at various benches throughout Independence Park, and they also offer a variety of entertaining tours led by well-trained costumed characters. Tours depart from the Independence Living History Center (115 S. 3rd St., 215/629-4026, www.onceuponanation.org, hours and cost vary).
On the one-hour Turmoil and Treason Tour, you’ll see actors debate going to war with England during a walk to Independence Hall. On the four-hour Independence After Hours Tour, you’ll have a three-course dinner at the historic City Tavern and watch Revolutionary-era reenactments between courses; visit Independence Hall where you’ll watch more reenactments between Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin; and see the Lights of Liberty Show.
On the Tipplers Tour (my favorite), you’ll enjoy a drink at four different bars — Society Hill Hotel, The Plough & The Stars, Old Original Bookbinders, and City Tavern — during a two-hour bar tour while learning about the role of the local watering hole in colonial Philadelphia.
The Friends of Independence National Historical Park (143 S. 3rd St., 215/861-4971, www.friendsofindependence.org) offers Twilight Tours (early July–Labor Day, daily 6 p.m., free), hour-long walking tours of the area. Designed by the volunteer guides, each tour is a little different. The organization also offers Open House Tours (800/537-7676, prices and schedule vary), when private homeowners from around the region open their doors and let you explore the unique architecture, histories, and stories of their homes.
During a 90-minute Candlelight Ghost Tour (215/413-1997, www.ghosttour.com/Philadelphia.html, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Apr.–Nov., $15 adult, $8 children 4–12, reservations required), you’ll hear tales of countless ghosts believed to roam the city. Stops include Independence Hall and St. Peter’s Cemetery, and ghosts include Benjamin Franklin. Tours depart from 5th and Chestnut Streets and tickets can be purchased at Independence Visitor Center, the gift shop (401 Chestnut St.), or online.
During the Lights of Liberty Show (6th and Chestnut Sts., 877/462-1776, $19.50 adult, $16.50 student and senior, $13 child 12 and under, Mar.–Oct., multiple shows each evening), you’ll experience the American Revolution through state-of-the-art technology. The story is told through laser-light images up to 50 feet high projected onto the buildings of Independence Park, including some where the events actually took place. An accompanying audio tour includes a musical score by the Philadelphia Orchestra and the voices of Walter Cronkite, Ossie Davis, and Charlton Heston. It is available in English, German, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish, as well as a version geared toward children ages 6–12.
Philadelphia Trolley Works (5th and Market Sts., 215/923-8516, www.phillytour.com) operates narrated tours on open-air Victorian trolleys, double-decker London-style buses (Big Bus Company), and horse-drawn carriages (’76 Carriage Company). The buses and trolleys allow you to hop off at any of 20 stops, including Independence National Historical Park, Chinatown, City Hall, Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia Zoo, Franklin Institute Science Museum, Penn’s Landing, and more. An all-day day pass costs $27 for adults, $25 for seniors, and $10 for children 4–12, with a $2 savings per ticket booked online. Carriage rides through Old City and Society Hill last 15 minutes to one hour and cost $30–80 depending on length of tour for up to four people, with an additional $10 for each additional rider. Avoid taking a carriage ride on the hottest summer days — the horse is even hotter than you are.
If you can get past the outrageously cheesy factor and the annoying sounds of the Wacky Quacker, a whistle that makes quacking sounds that is given to each guest, the amphibious Duck Tours (6th and Market Sts., 877/887-8225, www.phillyducks.com, $25 adult, $24 senior, $15 child, free child under 2) offer a unique way to see the city on land and from water. The superhero-like open-air machines transform from land vehicles on wheels into boats when they drop into the Delaware River at Penn’s Landing. The “Captain” tells stories of the city’s history as you move through the streets and the water, and if you join in and make some quacking sounds of your own, it’s much less annoying than listening to others do it.
With a bar and food at your disposal, a ride on Riverboat Queen Fleet (200 N. Columbus Blvd., Penn’s Landing, 215/923-2628, www.riverboatqueenfleet.com, summer only) is a relaxing way to take in the scenery. Trips vary in length of time and price; one-hour tours without food and drink included start at $15 per person. The fleet also offers U-Pedal paddle boats for rental and Super Ducks, a variation of the duck boat available for private charter.
A larger cruise ship, the Spirit of Philadelphia (Pier 3, Columbus Blvd., Penn’s Landing, 866/455-3866, www.spiritcitycruises.com) is more than just a sightseeing tour. With a restaurant, full bar, and dance floor onboard, it offers lunch ($29–39), dinner ($50–75), and late-night ($21–26) cruises, as well as special events like theater and holiday cruises. There is no better way to take in the skyline than sailing along the Delaware River.
© Karrie Gavin from Moon Philadelphia, 1st Edition